Upon departing the beach at Cape Gloucester Resort on charter each morning, amongst the standard rituals that I go through with my clients - apart from safety briefings - I ask everybody on board what they would like to try and catch that day. A fairly common reply is 'I'd love to catch a coral trout for my dinner, please.'
I then normally go on to say that it's no problem at all. I suggest we have a crack at using some light spin gear and hardbodies on them. I should take photos of the looks on people's faces when I make that suggestion, as a lot of people look at me with expressions of startled disbelief, as if I've been taking too many illegal substances.
There is definitely a belief amongst reef anglers that the only way to catch a coral trout is to be anchored up with a chunk of fresh pilchard or squid dangled over the side. This is not the case at all. With my operation I do a fair bit of conventional bottom fishing but more often than not the best quality and biggest quantities of fish come aboard on hardbody lures. My clients are constantly amazed at how effective and simple it is and, most importantly, it's piles of fun.
Why would I bother doing this when I know I can catch a fish by normal means? The answer is pretty simple really; when you're anchored up trying to catch a trout by conventional means, you're only working one coral bommy or one small section of a reef system at a time. When using hardbodies by either casting or trolling you are able to work an entire system quickly and efficiently, locating any hotspots where there are concentrations of fish.
Rods for this style of fishing need to be up around the 7ft mark. They need to be of graphite construction with a medium-fast to fast action and good lifting power in the butt section. Rods rated at around 6-8kg are ideal. Soft-tip style glass rods are not ideally suited to this application.
For line, I generally only use 12-15lb good quality braid. Most of my reels have Suffix 832 and I find it to be very reliable. You might think that using such light line to target big reef fish is a little silly but it isn't. By using the correct rod and boat handling techniques, catching trophies on a regular basis is very doable.
Every now and again I'll go up to using 20lb tackle and every time I watch the bite rate drop off, so I revert back to using the lighter gear. The lighter the line you to use, the more natural the action will be for your chosen lure and the more bites you will get.
Leaders are best at around 2m in length and use either a hard mono or fluorocarbon material. Occasionally a good fish will brick you and by using a hard leader material with a bit of length, you stand a chance of being able to get the fish up out of the reef. I normally use leaders of 30lb in strength and sometimes come back to 20 or 25lb if it's a tough bite.
Lure selection is pretty straightforward - keep the colours light and bright and use only lures that can be worked at pace. Lures that have a tight, fast body roll definitely help to single the coral trout out from the rest of the pack. Barramundi-style lures around the 100-125mm length are perfect for this style of fishing. Make sure you select brands or models that will swim comfortably at up to 5 knots.
Hooks and split rings need to strong enough to handle the required pressure to keep big fish out of the prickles. Most suitable Australian-made lures come out of the box with good quality hardware and can be used straight away. Be prepared to change the hardware on some imported lures before putting them in the water.
My go-tos are all good quality Australian-made lures. You need to be able to cover variety of depths for this style of fishing, so I carry a selection of lures on board that will dive to depths varying from 1-8m+.
WHEN AND WHERE TO FISH
The next few months are ideal to get out and get familiar with this style of fishing. Over the coming months there will be a lot of trophy fish up in country so shallow it surprises a lot of people; as the water temperatures begin to drop the bigger fish generally bite their heads off, particularly on the days leading up to the full and new moons. Most years the bigger fish will bite well up until May and occasionally, as was the case last year, we'll have big fish biting right up until the end of June.
As I've already said the fish will be up in shallow water and I expect to get my fair share of 4kg+ specimens out of less than 3m of water over the next couple of months. This makes them nice and accessible to small boat anglers and in some locations along the Qld coast you'll be able to cast for them straight off the mainland. The edges of top coastal fringing reefs are an ideal place to start your hunt.
You don't have to be too stressed out about locating patches of reef that have massive bommies or a lot of structure, as a lot of the better fish will be hiding on reef flats that only have a few rocks here and there, as long as there is plenty of weed around. Finding locations that have plenty of weed is integral to this style of fishing at this time of the year as that is where the trout will be hiding during the day.